Watercolor for beginners - Watercolour basics: brushes, easels and accessories

Local art shop is proud to be run by artists for artists and we always enjoy our customers coming in and asking questions or sharing their techniques with us. We've noticed that we get a few questions regularly so we thought we would try and cover these frequent queries.

So we're starting with watercolour painting and going back to basics, explaining the products. To paint with watercolours you will need your supplies:
1.Paper
2.Paint
3.Brushes
4.Board/Easels
5.Masking Fluid
6.Palette
7.Optional Extras

In this post we will be looking at brushes, boards and easels and your other supplies. (To read about paper and paint see part 1)

Brushes


While you can use any brush for your work there are certain brushes that are more suited for specific mediums.

Hair
For watercolours natural hair brushes are ideal as the natural fibres hold onto more water which allows longer brush strokes.

Shape
Round - useful for general painting, washes and detailing.
Long Flat  - useful for covering large areas, long continuous strokes and blending
Short Flat - useful for sharp brushstrokes gives greater control.
Rigger/Script - use for long flowing, fine lines.
Mop/Wash - useful for washes due to the capacity to hold paint.
Fan - useful for special effects, blending
Filbert - useful for blending and highlights, oval shaping allows for broad strokes with softer edges

Water-fillable brushes


These brushes have a reservoir that hold clean water within the brush handle, you than squeeze the handle to release the liquid. These are useful for painting outside as you have a supply of water. They can also be used to keep the flow of the paint going without re dip your brush. They are also easy to keep clean as you can squeeze water through the bristles.

Size
There is not standard brush size and different ranges even in the same brand can measure differently.
The smaller the brush size the finer detail you will be able to achieve. A larger brush size will hold more paint/water and give cover a larger area.

Care

When painting try and have two pots of water (if possible) one for rinsing your brush to change colour and other for working with. Try not to leave brushes sitting in the water as this can damage the shape and loosen the bindings, causing hairs to come loose and potentially fall out. When you have finished painting clean your brushes with warm soapy water or brush cleaner/preservative and dry flat or hanging (if possible) to help protect the shape and the liquid drains from the ferrule.

Board/Easels


Board - Stretching
As we mentioned in our section on paper you may need to stretch your sheets, particularly if using wet on wet techniques. This can be done with any clean, sturdy board (wood, mdf, foam board etc) First  you soak your paper, then carefully drain the water and place the soaked sheet on your board. Now lightly wet strips of gum tape (take care you don’t remove all the adhesive) and use this to hold your paper in place. When your painting is dry cut away from the board.

Easels
When painting having an easel is a benefit as proportions and perspective will be easier to match on the paper as the viewpoint of your subject and your view will have smaller differentials. For watercolour you will ideally want an easel you can tilt for when you want to work wet on wet of are filling in large areas of colour. Table easels are ideal for working on a smaller scale, they also sometimes offer storage space.

Masking Fluid


A liquid used for masking areas of work to stop the paint adhering to the painting surface, as watercolour artists paint the shade it is ideal for highlighting areas of your work. It is sometimes coloured so you can keep track of where it is. When you have finished painting that area you remove the masking fluid to reveal the unpainted surface.

Palette


A palette is not really an essential item to purchase you can quite easily use an old plate or if you have a boxed pan set then the majority have a build in palette on the lid. If you wish to have a palette there are various types. For watercolour we would recommend a well based rather than a flat palette as you are using water to dilute the paints. Multi well palettes have individual wells for colours and can have mixing areas which are larger.

Optional Extras


Paper Towels: These are used to blot away excess water and to help clean paint from your brushes.
Natural sea sponges: Use to wipe off paint, apply washes and wetting the paper, creating texture. Natural sponges are more gentle on your paper than synthetic sponges.
Pencil: Use to sketch outlines
Putty Rubber: This is a soft, mouldable eraser. This allows for precision erasing or creating mottled effects.
Mediums: Watercolours do not have many mediums that you can add, however, fluids such as liquid gomme arabic can be added to the paint to improve glossiness.
Rock salt can be used to create effects, wet your paper and paint on your colours, you'll want to create puddles of colour. Sprinkle with the salt and allow to dry, the crystals absorb the water creating a sparkling effect.
Mount: We would recommend having a scrap mount that you can use to mask off the picture to see how it is progressing or to use as a viewfinder.

Recommended products for beginners

Papers: Bockingford paper is perfect for beginners and comes in a variety of sizes, this is also the paper in our local art pads.
Paints: van Gogh brand is a lovely start for beginners, it comes in either tubes or pans or if you are only wanting to try it out Royal and Langnickel offer a range of inexpensive sets.
Brushes: Royal and Langnickel make a range of starter sets ideal for beginners.
Easels: For a beginner we would recommend the Chatsworth Earl.